A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Just like the facts you want to sprinkle across your manuscript, consider taking a different viewpoint or creative stance in presenting your information. The viewpoint you take can spark interest in a topic that often, on the surface, looks dull and boring. One of the best proponents of this creative approach is children’s author Lois Ehlert, who is known for taking common items and transforming them into dynamic new objects. Her books are some of the most creative available for young readers – opening their eyes to the world around them and stimulating their curiosity about how familiar items can be transformed into something new.
A perfect example is one of my all-time favorite books for very young children: Leaf Man (Ehlert, 2005). With a body made of fallen leaves and acorns for eyes, “Leaf Man” takes off from a backyard and flutters away on the breeze, traveling past animals, over fields of fall vegetables, above waterways, and across prairie meadows. From ducks to pumpkins, and from cabbages to fish, all the objects described are fashioned out of life-size leaves of various shapes, sizes, and hues. After this visual feast, young nature lovers are sure to look with fresh eyes as they walk through the woods, around a city park, or down a country road.
Another delightful example is Mojave (Siebert, 1988), a picture book that describes the Mojave Desert in southern California. Siebert rises above the all-too-common encyclopedic descriptions of deserts by taking on the role of the desert itself. That is, this is the story of the desert as it might be told by the desert. Listen to the magic of the language as the desert speaks: “My summer face is cracked and dry,/All blotched and flecked with alkali,/Until the coming of a storm/When thunderclouds above me form,/And bursting, send their rains to pound/Across my high, unyielding ground.” (Siebert, 1988, p. 22). As you might imagine, teachers and librarians love Siebert’s books because they are powerful and engaging read-aloud stories.
In my book I Am the Desert (https://amzn.to/2HJ1IAF ) I also sought to reveal that same desert ecosystem as a poetic entity – giving readers a vibrant and eye-opening vision of this oft-misunderstood environment. My message was that both animals and geology can be portrayed with illuminating language, emotional passion, and carefully crafted scenes. My viewpoint was first person – offering readers a unique and singular embrace of a most dynamic place. For example:
I am a land of discovery.
For here, there is much to learn.
Come and look.
I will share with you my rock-ribbed valleys,
my crimson cliffs,
and my layered miles of spine-studded plants
and brilliant creatures.
Come find my beauty!
I am the desert.
Offering kids unusual viewpoints of common (or misunderstood) elements of the natural world opens their eyes in new ways. They also get a sense that the world around them is never static, but is always available to different forms of interpretation.
Anthony D. Fredericks (www.anthonydfredericks.com) is a former professor of education at York College (now retired) and an award-winning and best-selling children’s author of more than 50 titles. His latest writing instruction book – Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2GOr0AF) – will be released in late June.